The Coyote: Friend Or Foe?

May 11, 2015

by Peter Reese
The Coyote: Friend Or Foe?

The area encircling the den looks as if a dozen mule deer had been dismantled in their tracks.  My nine year-old nephew marvels at the wide array of bone fragments; most notable are sun-bleached vertebrae appearing for all the world like plastic X-Wing Fighter models.

Coyotes populate the mesa above my Golden, Colorado home.  Hunting bravely as individuals and noisily in packs, they feast on voles, small birds and fenceless domestic pets.  My neighbor’s retriever landed at the vet after being stalked and hamstrung by an enterprising male; call it an even $4,000 in surgery.

Within a few hundred yards of our back fence, frenzied howls pierce the night three or more times a week.  The public golf course to the south sees frequent revelry as well, as the small pack ranges between Table Mountain and the 18th green.

Author Carol Cartaino, in her Menasha Ridge Press title, Myths & Truths About Coyotes, leaves few topics untouched.  Well beyond what’s available on Wikipedia or pure research papers, Cartaino captures the reader with questions many of us carry. Index topics such as Bounties, Chicago, Invisibility, Night Hunting and Voice Recognition beg investigation.

With dramatic growth in the number of human-coyote encounters in suburban and urban settings, the time’s right to clear the air.  Active Junky hunted the Southern Ohio-based author down with three questions to get the intellectual fur flying.

Active Junky: Which attributes of the animal are most different from other U.S. predators?

(Coyotes vs. bears, cougars, wolves, foxes, bobcats, lynx, weasels, etc.)

Carol Cartaino: Coyotes are probably more intelligent than most of the other U.S.  predators, in the human sense of intelligence—ability to figure things out, learn new things, and integrate them into their behavior. They are also more adaptable—versatile, able and willing to change with—and survive—shifting conditions. Furthermore, they are willing to live closer to people than most other US predators, except possibly foxes.

The three qualities above combine to account for the fact that coyotes are probably the most successful of U.S. predators in living with the world as we have changed it. In fact they are thriving in it, whereas many other predators are endangered or fewer in number, or driven off to secluded places.

AJ: How much of the coyote’s reputation is attached to the howl?

CC: Though coyotes have a number of other notable features, their howl is certainly a prominent part of their reputation, Even back when coyotes were living only in the West and Great Plains, coyote howls were often mentioned in stories and accounts of life there. An interesting thing about the howl is that a great many people who have never (knowingly) seen a coyote, have heard coyote howls. Though common when it comes to birds (we hear them but don’t see them), this is somewhat unusual for an animal in the U.S. The eerie quality of coyote howls also figures in how noticeable and memorable they are.

AJ: Where should we put coyotes on the Friend to Foe spectrum?

CC: This is very hard to answer in the abstract—it depends a great deal on whether a person has anything (animal, bird, or vegetable) that is possibly endangered by them.

If you have no pets, livestock, gardens, or orchards they could possibly help themselves to, coyotes are probably a plus. They return a large/medium size predator to places from which they were extinguished (with wolves and cougars gone), and add a touch of the wild to even the most urban settings. They also help control rodents, varmints, geese, and urban and suburban deer. And they clean up roadkill.

If you have cats and small or medium size dogs that run free, sheep or goats or chickens, etc., that they might prey on, it is hard to not see them as a foe, or at least to worry about them. Coyotes still provide the benefits noted above, but that may be canceled out by fears of what they might do to what you hold dear. 

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